Mexico quake toll tops 200 as quiet crews look for survivors


Mexicans labored amid ruins Wednesday to revive their capital and recover the dead the day after an earthquake killed hundreds, reduced buildings to rubble and brought one of the world’s largest cities to a halt.

Many offices remained shut, but banks and markets resumed normal operations. The state-owned electricity company known as CFE said it restored service to about 92 percent of customers after 4.8 million lost power due to the quake.

The quake destroyed dozens of buildings and killed at least 225 people, with an unknown number still missing. Thousands of residents in the hardest-hit areas of Mexico City spent the night at hotels or on the couches of friends or family, and it was unclear when their homes — if they still stood — could be safe to live in again.

The quake, initially reported as a 7.2 magnitude, was registered as a 7.1 by the U.S. Geological Survey. About 40 buildings in Mexico City have collapsed, with another 45 in danger of falling, according to Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera.

Shelters were opened throughout the region to help house the displaced as crews continued to dig for survivors, particularly at a collapsed six-story office building in the Condesa neighborhood and at the Enrique Rebsamen elementary school in the south of the city. Pena Nieto visited the school Tuesday night, where the bodies of 20 children and two adults had been recovered. Thirty others were still missing, according to local media reports.

Daniel Estudillo, 26, had been sitting on the sidewalk outside the school with his aunts since Tuesday afternoon, waiting to hear news of his cousin, a custodian.

“We haven’t been able to communicate with her,” said Estudillos. “She’s not on the list of the dead, and that gives us hope.”

Dozens of soldiers, police officers and volunteers crowded the rescue site. One army truck carted away plastic slides and jungle gyms removed from the site as police called out requests for rescue dogs and tetanus shots. They raised their fists to signal for silence, five minutes at a time, to listen for trapped survivors.

Throughout the city, military police, paramedics and volunteers sifted rubble.

“When you see these types of problems, you have no choice but to come and help,” said Francisco Javier Aguilar, a 43-year-old industrial waste worker who came from 40 minutes away to volunteer at a collapsed six-story building in the Condesa neighborhood. Clad in an orange reflective vest and wearing a white surgical mask, he and six relatives came to carry water and medicine, he said.

In the Condesa neighborhood, hundreds of volunteers laid out blankets for survivors Tuesday night and formed bucket brigades to pass water into the disaster zone. Across the street, soldiers marched two-by-two with shovels. Packs of cyclists-turned-volunteers trailed behind trucks to the next site.

Eric Bautista, a public accountant for Siemens Gamesa, wore a blue mask and was directing the volunteers.

“I knew collecting food and medicine was important, but we also needed to have order and distribute what we collected,” he said. “No one appointed me. Out of necessity, I had to step up to organize.”

‘Substantial’ Interruption

The tremor was Mexico’s second major quake this month after an 8.1 magnitude quake shook Mexico City and left about 100 dead, mainly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Tuesday’s quake could cause a “substantial” near-term interruption in economic activity, given that Mexico City with its services, and the states of Mexico and Puebla with manufacturing, account for more than a quarter of the nation’s output, Capital Economics economist Edward Glossop wrote in a research report.

Still, Mexico’s government, which had expected its budget deficit to narrow this year to the least since 2008, has fiscal room to fund public works and recovery, and the reconstruction could help the economy compensate for some lost output, he said.

After falling Tuesday following the quake, Mexico’s peso rebounded Wednesday, recovering all of its loss to reach 17.6964 per dollar in morning trading in New York. The IPC stock index was little changed on Wednesday after trading was halted on Tuesday.

State-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos said the gasoline supply in areas hit by the quake is guaranteed, with production, storage and supply sites operating well. Volkswagen AG resumed production at its Puebla plant in central Mexico on Tuesday night after earlier shutting as a precaution.

The quake, which struck on the 32nd anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed about 5,000, occurs less than nine months before a presidential election, where leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador leads most early polls.

Pena Nieto, who was in the air en route to Oaxaca when the quake hit, immediately returned to Mexico City to attend to the emergency. His Institutional Revolutionary Party’s slow response to the 1985 disaster contributed significantly to demands to open up the political system, with a disputed election in 1988 and the first non-PRI president in seven decades elected in 2000.